The Top 3 Reasons Your Jaw Goes Snap, Crackle or Pop

Click. Pop. Whir. Buzz. These can be absolutely adorable noises coming from a child’s toy just pulled out of a brightly wrapped and beribboned package, causing squeals of delight. Clicking and popping noises coming from your jaw, however, are not adorable and instead of squeals of delight are likely to bring on exclamations of discomfort. Jaw popping and/or clicking with chewing, yawning, opening wide, or similar extension behaviors that can cause you concern are symptoms of a group of problems called temporomandibular disorder or TMD. TMD describes problems with the joints and muscles of the jaw that allow you to speak, chew, and to move your lower face. It’s worth taking a look at what commonly causes popping or clicking noises in the jaw, how serious the underlying causes of TMD are, and what can be done about the noises and the conditions associated to provide some TMD relief.

Could it be Stress?

Stress frequently causes people to clench their jaw muscles, particularly while sleeping. Clenched jaws put pressure on the joint, including the muscles around the joint and cartilage in the joint. If you find yourself with new jaw pain or a noisy jaw that suddenly has joined the percussion section soon after new or an increase in stress in your life, it’s reasonable to suspect stress as a possible culprit.

How serious is it?

Stress in the long term, stress that is persistent and unmanaged over long periods of time, can cause serious health problems. The damage to your dental health from clenching and grinding your teeth is not limited to jaw pain. The micro-cracks caused by clenching and grinding your teeth can increase your risk of caries and hypersensitivity. However, all these problems develop over time, so if you catch on early, you have time to prevent long term damage.

What can be done?

Your dental care team can help fit you with a custom nightguard to wear while you are sleeping to head off damage from clenching and grinding. Be cautious when considering use of a nightguard not provided by a dental professional; over-the-counter nightguards can actually worsen symptoms if they do not fit properly. Stress management to address the root of the problem can also help address the pain.

Could it be an Injury?

A blow to the face has the potential to damage the jaw joint. Straining from overextending your jaw (who knew a big yawn could be risky) can cause temporary jaw pain and problems. Even chewing something hard with your teeth misaligned could cause a minor injury to the TMJ (temporomandibular joint).

How serious is it?

It depends on the seriousness of the injury. If you have a recent blow to the face that includes the symptoms of pain and swelling, with or without new jaw clicking or popping, you can consult your regular doctor or dentist to have the injury checked out. Jaw problems from an injury will generally resolve as the injury heals.

What can be done?

Ice and rest are the first steps in helping most injuries, including facial injuries. If the blow was serious enough, you may need to seek medical care. Most injuries will resolve with rest and time. You may need to switch to a soft food diet while you heal. You can also use ice and over-the-counter pain relievers for comfort while healing up.

Could it be Arthritis?

Certain inflammatory or degenerative joint conditions can cause your joint to stop working as well. Arthritis, whether psoriatic, rheumatoid, or osteoarthritis can cause jaw problems.  The good news is that it’s a fairly uncommon location in which to develop arthritis.

How serious is it?

Arthritis can be serious anywhere. In general, the damage caused by arthritis is not reversible, but with proper care, your doctor may be able to halt the progression of your arthritis to keep any problem from getting worse.

What can be done?

Over the counter pain relievers can help with the pain and discomfort of arthritis. Some people are also helped by a dental mouth guard or splint to help keep their jaw comfortably aligned. Arthritis is a medical condition that should be monitored by your doctor, so you will need to keep your regular appointments with your healthcare team to best manage your condition. Be sure to share information about your arthritis with your dental care team as well so they can take appropriate steps to help you during your dental care as well.

TMD doesn’t have to become a permanent problem. Talk to your dental care team or your doctor if you are having pain, with or without clicking and popping noises, for help identifying and treating any problems.


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